John Willis Collection, circa 1915-1944, and 1967  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Willis, John, 1857-1944
John Willis Collection
circa 1915-1944, and 1967 (inclusive)
2 items
Collection Number
Mss 022
John Willis was a western pioneer who lived in Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Alberta; he settled for a time in Montana. The collection consists of his journal, which documents his time in the West.
University of Montana, Mansfield Library, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library
University of Montana
32 Campus Dr. #9936
Missoula, MT
Telephone: 406-243-2053
Fax: 406-243-4067
Access Restrictions

Researchers must use collection in accordance with the policies of Archives and Special Collections, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, and the University of Montana-Missoula.

Funding for creating this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

John Willis was born near Columbia, Missouri, in 1856. He left home at age fourteen and worked on the plains as a cowhand, mule-skinner, buffalo hunter, horse breaker, and cattle butcher. In the 1870s, he moved through the mountain regions: he owned a saloon in Denver, another in Socorro, New Mexico; he mined in the Black Hills; ran whiskey to Alberta; and hunted buffalo and freighted in Montana. He settled in Thompson Falls, Montana, in 1882, where he ran a general store until it burned down in 1890. Willis guided Theodore Roosevelt on hunting trips in the late 1880s and several European aristocrats on trips in the 1890s. He moved to a ranch near Fort Peck in the late 1890s and ranched there until 1908, when he moved to Glasgow and entered first the machinery, then the insurance business. He was a member of the northern Montana delegation that persuaded Roosevelt to enact the Milk River Irrigation Project in 1905, and he was elected a Democratic representative to the Montana legislature in 1915. Willis moved from Glasgow to Arizona in 1926, then to California, where he died in 1944.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists of Willis's post-1915 typescript journal, with an introduction by an unidentified individual, and of a paper prepared by David A. Walter as a student of K. Ross Toole, professor of history at the University of Montana, in 1967. The journal is an account of Willis's life that focuses on his life between 1870 and 1890, when he traveled extensively through the Great Plains and the Intermountain West. Walter's evaluation is a detailed study addressing questions of dates, authorship, and content. He includes an event outline, a character index, and a place-and-thing index.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Researchers are responsible for using in accordance with 17 U.S.C. and any other applicable statutes. Copyright not transferred to the University of Montana.

Preferred Citation

[Name of document or photograph number], John Willis Collection, Archives and Special Collections, The University of Montana-Missoula.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Gift of W. H. Bertsche, 1968.

Processing Note

In 1967, the processor prepared a complete study of the manuscript. In 1998, the collection was re-described.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Frontier and pioneer life --Montana
  • Frontier and pioneer life --West (U.S.)
  • General stores--Montana --Thompson Falls
  • Hunting -- Montana
  • Hunting guides--Montana --Biography
  • Pioneers--Montana -- Biography
  • Pioneers--West (U.S.) -- Biography

Personal Names

  • Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919
  • Willis, John, 1857-1944--Biography

Corporate Names

  • University of Montana--Missoula--Students

Geographical Names

  • Great Basin--Description and travel
  • Great Plains--Description and travel
  • Thompson Falls (Mont.)--History

Form or Genre Terms

  • Memoirs--West (U.S.)


  • History students -- Montana--Missoula
  • Pioneers--West (U.S.)

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Walter, David, 1943- (creator)